Don’t Be A Snob


A lot of people take interest in photography. Starting out it is all fun. Learning about gear. Taking nice photos. No pressure. After awhile someone will ask you how much you charge. Before you know it you are starting a business and doing it for real. After doing it for a while. Getting some high paying clients and some nice photos. The snobbery kicks in. The Dunning-Kruger effect. It happens to almost all of us photographers after a while. Sadly many never outgrow it.

Back in July 2018 I posted an article about how and why entrepreneurs have a higher rate of depression in my Facebook group the Michigan Photography Network. One member started going on a tirad about how most “entrepreneurs” he knew where actually unemployed and about how much better he was than them. As someone who has lost two close friends to suicide I had little tolerance for this guy’s egotistical tirade and blocked him from the group.

Sadly many can’t separate themselves from their work. They assume if they take a bad photo or have a rough month business wise they are a failure. This thinking leads to depression and for some even suicide. This is one of the reasons I intentionally do many things outside of photography. I’m a member of a local Jaycee chapter, a local presbyterian church, and regularly meet up with friends who could care less about what I do for a living.

A few months later I came across an article on one of my favorite blogs, fstoppers, about not bad mouthing cheaper photographers. The article was great. Those in the comments sections disagreed though. They were going on rants about how cheap photographers should “know their worth”.

Sadly a lot of people make work into something akin to a religion. I don’t though. I realize this makes me worthy of scorn in many circles in both the photography and entrepreneurial circles, but quite frankly I don’t care. I’d much rather make time for the things that matter in life instead of working and networking 24/7.

A lot of times non photographers bring their “photographer horror stories” to me. These include photographers not giving photos to clients. Photographers messing up important shots on weddings. Or photographers just acting unprofessional. Most people seem surprised that I don’t rip into these people. Why? Because we all start out there. Entrepreneurship and photography requires a lot of trial and error. Early on your going to mess up. Some more than others. I get why people hire new inexpensive photographers. But it is a gamble. Your taking a risk. Sadly I get a decent amount of clients each year who try people just starting out and end up hiring me because the shots didn’t turn out the way they like. I don’t badmouth these photographers though. Maybe professional photography isn’t for them and it will remain a hobby. Which is fine. Maybe they will learn from their mistakes, stick with it, and become professionals. Which is just fine to.

I don’t dislike the new guys. We all start out there.

5 Restaurants to Check Out in Clare, Michigan


Despite its small size my hometown of Clare, Michigan has several great restaurants worth trying out the next time you find yourself in the gateway to the north.

Cops and Doughnuts has become the namesake of Clare. It started when the local police officers bought the downtown bakery. It has now expanded to multiple locations around the state and even one outside Michigan. This is a place I regularly meet with clients for consultations. A box of Cops and Doughnuts doughnuts is also my go to when I need to bring a dish to pass to get togethers, socials, and networking events.

The Mulberry Cafe is an amazing place to stop for breakfast or lunch if you are in Clare. Located right next to the library it has some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Connected to the cafe is the Herrick House which has a variety of trinkets and books for sale by local authors.

The Four Leaf Brewery is probably my favorite bar/restaurant in Clare. With an ever-changing variety of newly brewed craft beer styles, unique food, coffee shop like atmosphere, fun events, and friendly staff it has become a place a frequent. Several of my photographs also decorate the walls as well as a few images shot by my second shooter Nikki Robinson.

White House has a variety of affordable and unique food. It a great lunch option especially if you are on a budget. One of my photos used to grace the cover of their menu.

The newly opened Timeout Tavern has amazing food, a full bar, and a plethora of craft beers. It is a great dinner location.

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When To Put The Camera Down



I am constantly reading books. Not because I think I’m smart. For the opposite reason actually. I’m aware there is so much I don’t know and need to learn. I came across this passage recently which got me thinking.

“we need to rethink our memories. What if the point-and-shoot cameras in our phones make us less capable of retaining discrete memories? One psychologist calls this camera-induced amnesia the “photo-taking impairment effect,” and it works like this: by outsourcing the memory of a moment to our camera, we flatten out the event into a 2-D snapshot and proceed to ignore its many other contours—such as context, meaning, smells, touch, and taste… If the cameras in our pockets mute our moments into 2-D memories, perhaps the richest memories in life are better “captured” by our full sensory awareness in the moment—then later written down in a journal. This simple practice has proven to be a rich means of preserving memories for people throughout the centuries. Photography is a blessing, but if we impulsively turn to our camera apps too quickly, our minds can fail to capture the true moments and the rich details of an experience in exchange for visually flattened memories. Point-and-shoot cameras may in fact be costing us our most vivid recollections. But until we are convinced of this, we will continue to impulsively reach for our phones in the event of the extraordinary (or less).” Tony Reinke – 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

When I was in middle and high school I had a camera with me all the time. The camera on me was always the best camera I owned. I would document everything. Hanging out with friends. Family get togethers. Nature scenes and wildlife on the way to and from church, school, or commissioned shoots. Everything. If I didn’t bring my camera with me it seemed like the event was a waste. During college my thinking started to shift. I started only bringing my professional camera with me to professional shoots for school or clients. As I grew older I became less and less obsessed with documenting every mundane detail of life. Instead I choose to live in the moment. This thinking didn’t change overnight. It wasn’t even something I really thought about until I came across the Reinke quote. It was something that gradually happened over time. In December 2013 I bought my first iPhone. The iPhone became the camera I would document ordinary life with instead of a professional camera. I even created a personal series of iPhone images from late 2013-2016. The series saw less and less additions as time went on. In 2017 almost no new images where added. In 2018 I fully removed the gallery from my website. Now in 2019 I rarely take photos with my iPhone. The exception would be images for other business related tasks instead of artistic endeavors. Photos of business cards, location scouting, or of my car so I can find out how to get back to where I parked. I’ve had to many awkward experiences with the former to not be overly cautious now. Get togethers with friends, networking events, and my other ordinary busy work see no photographic documentation from me.

A friend of mine who runs in the same entrepreneurial circles I do shares a similar outlook. He greatly enjoys travel, but doesn’t take photos of his trips. Why? Because he would rather enjoy the moment than worry about getting a good photo.

It is okay to put the camera down. Enjoy the moment. You don’t need to document every minute detail of your life.

“I now find peace in the realization that countless potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.” Dan Winters – The Road to Seeing

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A Healthy Approach to Social Media


Last year I went to one of Scott Kelby’s conferences in Lansing. I’ve been to several of his teaching events and every one has went great. Last year’s was no exception. While I was there I started talking with one of the fellow attendees. She was newer to photography and wanted to learn more about the basics. I told her about the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. I told her that many people ask photography related questions in the group. She was very anti-social media. I explained to her why I made the group. She responded with “Well I guess we can justify anything.”

I have came across several others over the last few years who have similar anti-social media views. Old friends who have wanted to hang out, but refuse to get on Facebook to see when our next get together is. Fellow entrepreneurs who have to call several people to find out when local networking events are, despite the info being clearly accessible on Facebook. Most in this camp seem to have a sense of superiority because of abstinence from social media.

On the other extreme I have came across several in entrepreneurial circles who act as if you aren’t documenting every minute detail of your life on several social media networks then you are being lazy.  

I try to avoid both of these extremes.

So how do I use social media?

I primarily use social media for business purposes. I’ll use Facebook,Instagram, and LinkedIn primarily to build awareness about Ryan Watkins Photography. Clients will also private message me on these networks. This leads to work. I also have business Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I use Buffer to schedule my business related posts. Using Buffer to schedule posts has saved me a ton of time. Now I don’t have to interpret what I’m doing to post on social media for my business.

I also use social media for networking with others in my industry. I primarily do this thru the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. Other Michigan photographers and I frequently answer people’s photography related questions in this group. I also post twice a day to this group with edifying content of some sort. Usually this is articles or videos. Dank memes seem to be the most popular content though. These twice daily posts are also posted via Buffer and scheduled in advance.

I’ll also give businesses I frequent or have had positive experiences with good reviews.

I’ll use it for meeting with people in real life such as my friends from high school, networking events, and Michigan Photography Network meetups.

For personal use I’ll use goodreads and untaped to keep track of books and craft beer I like. I also use Feedly to keep track of blogs I follow. I have an anonymous Twitter for following some interests. I have never actually sent out a tweet from this account.

I avoid posting about everything I go out and do. If I go to a networking event or hangout with friends I usually don’t post about it. I don’t complain about things in my personal life. Nor do I argue with people about politics or other contentious issues on social media.

In summary, I try to maintain a happy medium between the two extremes of approaching social media. I’ll schedule posts in advance using Buffer to my business accounts to build awareness for Ryan Watkins Photography. I’ll use personal accounts primarily for keeping in touch with old friends and following various hobbies and interests. Thus far this happy medium approach to social media has worked well for me.

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Why I Put My Prices On My Website


Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I got a call about a potential client who was interested in a child portrait consultation. I went over to the clients home and everything was going well. We planned out the date for the shoot and figured out the specifics for the session. Then I told them my prices. At that time I was way out of their price range. It was a huge waste of both the client and I’s time.

Running a business takes a lot of trial and error. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. To avoid having more instances like this I started putting my full price list online. This transparency benefits both my potential clients and myself. Clients can easily see what I offer and decide if I am within their budget before we even meet. This also saves me time from having to meet with potential clients who can’t afford me.

For work outside of my normal wheelhouse, which I refer to as “commissioned work”, I don’t have set prices put on my website but will deliver a quote once I have enough details about the shoot.  

Wedding and session pricing can be found here. Product pricing can be found here.

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Why I Don’t Wear Black To Weddings


It has been a standard in the photography industry for wedding photographers to wear black to weddings. I only do this if the bride and groom request it. I typically only wear black to funerals.

Weddings are a happy occasion and I like to dress accordingly.

During every wedding consultation I always ask the bride and groom what the dress code will be for the wedding. During the wedding day I want to blend in and look like a fellow guest. This allows me to get better candids. I usually wear a blazer or sport coat with dress pants, tie, and pocket square. For more casual weddings I’ll dress down.

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The Biggest Shift In My Thinking Since Graduating From Photography School


I first took an interest in photography over ten years ago. I started entering photoshop contests on the now defunct website worth1000.com per the recommendation of a friend of mine from church. After several unsuccessful attempts in these photoshop contests, I decided to try worth1000’s photography contests where my entries served much better. Back in 2008/2009 I had dial up internet, so much of my early education about photography came from books and magazines. I’d spend hours reading every article in magazines like Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and similar magazines. My biggest goal at that time was to get my work published in one of these magazines. I entered every contest and call for submissions I could find. In late 2010 I got my first publication in The World of Photography bookazine. In 2011 I got my first magazine cover on the February issue of Shutterbug magazine. During high school I ended up getting published in several other magazines including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo, and PDNedu.

After high school I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts and became a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Hallmark was an intense ten month program which taught how to be a professional photographer. The technical requirements for the photos you submitted where high. I tried to shoot everything by the book. I ended up graduating with the highest academic honor for having the highest grades for the overall school year.


After graduating I was still in the academic mindset. I was still trying to create the most technically perfect photo I could find. Most of these tiny details I’d fret over where things my clients wouldn’t have ever noticed, even if a photo with and without the fretted over details were put side by side. These details were things that only other photographers cared about. But in this pursuit for technical precision I missed many of the things which made a great photo and the things my clients actually cared about. Gesture. Expression. Timelessness. I cared more about meeting the approval of photographers than getting the photos my clients wanted. My priorities were misplaced.

It wasn’t until 2017 that is shift in my thinking really started to take place. Taking photos isn’t about me, meeting the approval of other photographers, or sanctimonious horn tooting, but instead about getting photos my clients will love and cherish for years to come. I started shooting for my clients and not other photographers.

My clients want photos which showcase them. Their genuine expressions. Their personality. The people and places they love and cherish. Not photos flaunting my technical ability.

There are times I get asked to photograph locations or things that aren’t the most photogenic. Usually these are sentimental to people. Back in 2013/2014 I would have tried to talk the client out of it. Now I go with it because it is what my clients want. Will the photo win award or end up in a magazine? I doubt it. But that is not what matters. Getting the photo my clients want is.


This type of thinking didn’t just change how I shot in 2017 but it started to permeate other parts of my business as well. I changed my turn around time to one week instead of two. I started offering digital files and not just prints. I got rid of in person viewing sessions and switched to much easier online galleries. I switched from collections to a la carte offerings for prints and products. I also changed my pricing and put my prices publically on my website. I continue to tweek and adjust the internal systems in my business to make things go as smoothly as possible for clients.

During every wedding consultation I ask the bride and groom what they are most looking forward to on their wedding day. This gives me direction for how I will approach the wedding. Different couples have far different answers. For one couple last year it was all about their two families coming together. For another couple they both came from broken families and wanted a huge emphasis of the day to be on their friends. Another couple wanted a big focus on the details of DIY decorations made for them by their friends and family. At the end of the day it is about shooting what matters to the bride and groom, not trying to get a photo into a bridal magazine or industry recognition.  

Occasionally when I run into people I haven’t seen in years they’ll ask if I’ve been published in any magazines recently. I tell them no. At this point in my career I really don’t care about industry accolades and recognition but shooting good work for my clients instead.  

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Don’t Become Obsessed With Photography Equipment


Since creating the Michigan Photography Network in 2017 and starting to dabble in teaching photography in 2018, I have started to get more questions from amature photographers. A common thing I see with new photographers is they are obsessed with gear and acquiring it. This is especially true for those who come from a technical or engineering background. This seems to be less of an issue for those coming into photography from more of an artistic background. Those in the local art communities seem to care less about camera specs, new lenses, and other novelty gear. This obsession with acquiring the latest and greatest gear can become a huge financial burden and won’t lead to you getting better photos.

An amature photographer friend of mine told me recently about a trip he went on. He has a newer and higher end camera and lens combination than I do, but he wasn’t able to get the shot he wanted on the trip. Despite his huge investment in gear he wasn’t able to figure out how to get an image in the high contrast scene he wanted to photograph. If he had spent the time learning about basic photography instead of simply buying more gear he could have gotten the image and saved a lot of money.

The photography industry doesn’t do much to help with this either. A photographer I spoke with last year went on about how “real photographers” (sic) have to use Profoto flashes. I used Profoto flashes in college and they are amazing flashes. They also start out at well over $1000. I can create nearly the exact same photo as those I did in college with my current lighting kit consisting of $400 Alienbees and $15 Yongnuo flashes. The Profotos will last longer and recycle quicker than the Alienbees or Yongnuos but amature and professional photographers don’t need to use the highest end lights available. Quit trying to meet of the approval of the industry snobs and start taking better photos for yourself and your clients.

When it comes to purchasing gear you should focus on buying what you need and not what you want. A lot of photographers especially amateurs waste a lot of money on novel equipment like Lensbabies, fisheye lenses, and other weird novelty gear that will seldom get used. Over my career I’ve acquired a great deal of these novel odds and ends but have ended up selling, giving away, or throwing out most of them in 2018 after reading about minimalism.

My recent gear purchases weren’t impulse buys based off of what my favorite photo industry celebrity endorsed but instead where based on practical factors based on what my clients want. Two lenses I bought in 2018 were a 60mm macro and an 85mm f1.8. Why these two lenses? My wedding clients want macro shots of their wedding rings so I bought a macro lens. I also have many clients who get married in small dimly lit churches. During the ceremony I like to remain as inconspicuous as possible so I don’t use flash. Hence why I bought an 85mm f/1.8.

I also bought several cheap used Yongnuo flashes from eBay. Why? Because now I can give clients a lot more variety of lighting options.

Some of my best purchases for my business in the last few years weren’t even technically photography equipment. Examples? A red wagon I can pull my gear around in. A leatherman multipurpose tool which I’ve used for a wide variety of applications both on shoots and in daily life. Even pieces of foam core to use as reflectors and flags.

Don’t fall for it when people try to convince you that you need the latest, greatest, or most novel gear to get a good photo. Ansel Adams, Gregory Heisler, Arnold Newman, Platon, Joe McNally, Dan Winters, Irving Penn, and the other greats of photography have taken far better photos than I ever have with far inferior gear. Instead focus on learning the craft. It takes time and won’t be solved by buying the latest full frame mirrorless camera and Profoto two head kit.

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The Importance of Timelessness in Photography

 

A month or so ago I read thru an article on Rangefinder Magazine featuring the best wedding photography of the year. I forget right off hand what the title of the article was but it featured 30 photographers. Many of the images were stunning, within and of themselves, but almost all of them had a similar retouching applied to get a dark, gritty, dingey look. Even though the images themselves were beautiful the trendy grungy muddy retouching made almost all of the photographers work look the same and clearly dated the work to instantly scream “2017.”

When I first got started in photography back in 2009/2010 high dynamic range photography (commonly called HDR) was all the rage. This technique originally required special software and required the photographer to take several photographs (usually three or more exposures) which were then combined to get details in the lights and darks of an image. These images usually resulted in garish cartoonish images which were loved by non photographers and hated by professionals. Now thanks to improvements in smartphone technology HDR is even available on phone cameras and commonly known to most people today.

Shortly after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 plugin and app makers such as VISCO popularized presets and retouching techniques which made images look like they were shot on film. As a fellow Hallmark alumni and I predicted this hipster trend would die and die hard.

Back in the 1980s wedding photographers were the least respected group of working photographers in the industry, after the advent of digital photography nature and landscape  photographers (with the exceptions of a few well knowns) took that position. Part of this was due to hideous trendy photos(like gaudy double exposures of people’s heads in wine glasses).

 

As time goes on I’m sure we’ll have to witness (suffer thru?) many trendy photographic styles; most of which will be caused by retouching and post processing more so than the photography itself. As I had mentioned when observing the recent trend of dark grungy images (which is possibly an overreaction to the airy faux film images of the few years prior) the original photographs (what was captured in camera) were gorgeous but the over processing is what permanently stamped them with the look and feel of 2017.  

Imagine you come from a large family and each sibling had hired the same wedding photographer. Now imagine that the photographer simply adopted the trends of each year. The first 2010 couple would have gaudy HDR images, the second 2013 couple would have hipster-centric faux film images, and most recently photographed 2017 couple would have dark grungy images.

 

The antidote to modern trends in retouching is timelessness. I don’t take the purest view that all retouching is bad and that we should go back to ye olde film days. I have much respect for those who shoot with film but my formal training has been with digital therefore I stick with such. A consistent timeless approach to both the photography and retouching is something that I want to be a hallmark of my work.

 

Since receiving my formal training at Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 my photographic style hasn’t changed greatly. This isn’t an excuse for stagnancy. A photographer’s work should improve over time, and mine has, even though my overall style hasn’t changed. I flee novelty while still improving at my craft. As the years have went on I’ve gotten better at capturing gesture and expression in my images (something my early work lacked). I have also learned to shoot in ways requiring less retouching and post production (partially for pragmatic efficiency workflow reasons) and partially because my work is improving and I’m becoming less dependent on post production. I have always strived to present simple, clean, elegant portraiture (and wedding documentary) to my clients. These defining traits (clean, simple, and elegant) could also be used to describe my commercial, event, and fine art images as well. If you look at the slideshow on my homepage I have images spanning from 2013-2017. The changes in the imagery is subtle. Newer images show more expression and gesture while older images where a little more static and focused on technical precision. Despite the year taken the style as remained the same.

Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I strive to provide clean, simple, elegant photography for my clients regardless of current trends or what genre of photography I am photographing for them.

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Best Places to View the Fall Colors in Michigan

 

 

One of the things I love about being a fine art photographer in Michigan is being able to photograph the beautiful fall colors each year.

 

 

The Pictured Rocks national lake shore is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in Michigan. I haven’t had the opportunity to go back up there in many years. 

 

Most of my Fall 2016 series was photographed near my home town of Clare. Many of the back roads have beautiful color in October. One of my favorite roads to drive down for fall color images in Dover Road near Jays outside of Clare, Michigan. 

 

 

One of the most frequently photographed areas for fall colors is Oak Road between Clare and Coleman Michigan. Most people who have seen the “The Tree Tunnel” end up returning to see it again. To get to Oak Road drive to where Tobacco Drive and Colonville Road meet. Less than a half mile down from the intersection on Tobacco is Oak Road. 

Here are some addition resources for recommended places for viewing fall colors in Michigan. Many of these locations I hope to visit in the future but have yet to. 

12 Of Michigan’s Most Dazzling Fall Color Drives 

18 Spots to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

Upper Peninsula Fall Color Routes 

Top 5 Fall Color Views

Best Places to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

5 Places to See Northern Michigan Fall Color 

Fall Color Tours 

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